National identity vs Global City identity: Diner en Blanc

Thanks very much for all the comments and feedback you all have sent over the past week. As the very notion of identity–let alone Singaporean identity–is so nebulous, my thoughts are still forming as to what exactly a global city identity in Singapore will look like.

It is easier, I suppose, to depict this tension with real-world examples, and what better than the recent Diner en Blanc brouhaha.

In my mind, this is a perfect example of how some people with a “global city identity” were trying to impose their values on Singaporeans in whom the “national identity” still burns strong.

I too was really cheesed off that some people might not consider the likes of tau hway sophisticated enough for their table in Singapore.

It was thus heartening to see some of the Diner en Blanc organisers apparently backing down from their earlier  seemingly immovable position.

National identity One: Global identity Zero.

But, as I alluded to in my article on identity, with current birth and immigration rates where they are, and Singapore’s openness to the global economy, how long more can the National identity prevail? If Diner en Blanc attempts to sideline tau hway in 20 years, how many will object? Would love to hear your thoughts.

I am not saying all this to rouse nationalistic sentiment. Xenophobia is inexcusable. Singapore will always need and welcome migrants. (That said, I believe the pace has been too fast and must be moderated.)

All this is simply food for thought: for Singaporeans and all the wonderful people from outside who are living with us to take pause and contemplate the changing times that we are living in, and the evolving identities that we are witnessing.

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3 responses

  1. To me, as an ang moh, it seems as if Singapore does have a strong sense of self and of its own identity. Many countries, that to outsiders (including other Europeans) seem “old world”, are actually quite new – Germany came into being in the nineteenth century, and for almost half of its history was actually split it into two. Italy is still not a whole, and neither is Belgium. Still, the people in those countries are perceived, and perceive themselves to have a national, shared identity. Like in Singapore, there is an ongoing debate of what this identity looks like (funnily enough, in both Germany and Belgium beer plays a large part, but wholly different types of beer and beer consumption). This is the second time I’m living in Singapore as an expat, the first time being in the early eighties when I was a toddler. My parents came to visit us and did not recognize the city – but they recognized the Singaporean spirit! They could still order their favourite dishes in their favourite hawker centres, they recognized the sounds and smells – as did I myself, when I stepped of the plane. I think that Singaporean identity is too strong to disappear. It might change – all national identities change – but its spirit will remain and infuse the newcomers until they become Singaporeans themselves.

    • Hi Katrijn, thanks for your comments. It’s quite interesting to hear from foreigners who were here in the 80s-90s and are now back again, for a sense of perspective. A Canadian friend of mine has similar observations, and can’t quite understand why I am fretting about any loss of identity. And yes, I enjoy both German and Belgian beer…

  2. What made me disappointed about tau huay being turned away at Diner en Blanc at first is the pretension of it all – that there are some “high class” food and some “low class” food – and not actually the fact that I felt that my national identity had been slighted. I think that was a backlash that came later because we are already feeling insecure about this identity.

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